Seattle Storm 73 @ Washington Mystics 65
Lineups: Seattle stuck with the same group that lost to Connecticut the night before, with Alysha Clark in that third perimeter spot they’re unsure what to do with. Ivory Latta regained her starting spot in the Washington backcourt from Bria Hartley – apparently Latta missed a couple of practices last week due to a minor injury, which may have been the reason Hartley replaced her against Indiana.
Story of the Game: The first half was a low-scoring affair. Emma Meesseman scored at will early on for the Mystics, initially using her height advantage inside, then hitting jumpers when given too much space from mid-range. But she didn’t get a lot of offensive help from her teammates.
Seattle went super-small at times in the second quarter, with Nicole Powell becoming their center. But it seemed to upset the Mystics more than the size limitations hurt Seattle. Washington were thrown off their rhythm by knowing they should be attacking the mismatches, and focussing too much on that. Seattle doubled hard and with more organisation than we’d seen from them in previous games this season, managing to recover well enough to survive. The Mystics also just missed several good looks when the ball was rotated away from the double-teams. The Storm also finally manged to exploit the other side of being undersized, when Powell knocked down a pair of threes – the other team’s bigs aren’t used to guarding players like her, so she should find open looks when forced to play ‘center’.
Both teams were better offensively in the second half, and Seattle were scrambling less on the defensive end because Camille Little and Crystal Langhorne played the vast majority of the minutes inside. The Storm were noticeably better than in any of their three previous games, using backdoor cuts and more motion to pierce into the heart of the Washington defense. They also hit some shots, which always helps. Shekinna Stricklen made her first meaningful impact of the 2014 season with back-to-back threes that keyed a Seattle run in the third quarter to build a lead, and they largely maintained it from there. After looking tired for several minutes, Sue Bird drilled a huge three with 90 seconds left in the game to help ice it. Die Bitches apparently still lives.
Key Players: The three primary scorers for Seattle were Bird, Little and Tanisha Wright, but it was a collective performance. There was better cohesion, and they fought their way to the finish line just like we’ve seen them do many times over the years. It remains to be seen if they can produce this kind of result regularly, or against stronger opponents, but at least it got them off the mark for the season, and prevented an ugly 0-4 from appearing in the standings.
Meesseman’s early burst was the most memorable sequence for Washington, who didn’t have a great day. The ball movement and perimeter shooting wasn’t good enough to punish Seattle when their defense broke down. We’re also still waiting for the real Kara Lawson to show up in a Mystics jersey.
Notes of Interest: Jenna O’Hea has been getting good looks for the Storm – and they’ve been running sets specifically designed to break her open for threes – but she’s not been knocking them down. A career 45% shooter from three-point range in the WNBA, she’ll likely snap out of it, but the physical pounding from playing power forward for the Storm may not be helping. She sometimes had to chase players like Diana Taurasi around when she was playing for LA, but she never had to hold up against the likes of Candice Dupree or Emma Meesseman in the paint. Powell was given all the backup post minutes by Brian Agler in the second half of this game.
If you’re like me and mute or switch over as soon as the halftime buzzer sounds in most games, hold on a minute or two for Mystics home games. They talk to head coach Mike Thibault, and he’s invariably insightful and amusing in his honest analysis of the first half. It’s worth sticking around for.
New York Liberty 82 @ Minnesota Lynx 87
Lineups: Same five for Minnesota, as expected. New York brought Plenette Pierson back into their starting lineup, replacing DeLisha Milton-Jones at power forward. With Pierson at this stage it’s become a case of where they can use her limited minutes most effectively. She still doesn’t look to be moving as freely as she should be, although overall wear and tear – and advancing age – may mean this is about as mobile as she’s going to be from now on.
Story of the Game: To the surprise of nobody who’s witnessed her performances so far this season, Maya Moore opened the game on fire. She lit New York up from outside, and helped push the Lynx out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. Unfortunately that period ended with Moore and Seimone Augustus running head-first into each other while chasing a loose rebound. Both eventually returned in the second quarter after treatment, but it must’ve scared the hell out of Cheryl Reeve.
New York weren’t going away. Cappie Pondexter looked up for the fight, and they were looking to Tina Charles in the paint early and often. Damiris Dantas was playing a little too far off Charles inside, allowing her to inside pivot and face up if she caught an entry pass with her back to the basket. Charles can do so many different things from that position that it’s hard to stop her. Dantas is still learning, but Charles got pretty much whatever she wanted for extended stretches of this game.
The other notable positive for New York in this game, especially during their push in the second half, was that they actually made some perimeter shots. Pondexter hit a couple, Essence Carson joined in, Anna Cruz showed a little range, and Charles nailed some mid-range shots that made sense – not the endless stream of jacked jumpers we saw from her last season in Connecticut. The Liberty swung the game around and actually led for much of the third quarter.
However, the Lynx responded. They got useful energy minutes from Asia Taylor off the bench – she still looks a little small for a full-time power forward, but as a combo 3/4 she could definitely have some value – and then Moore and Augustus started to get involved again. At times, both of them are virtually unguardable, and having them on the same perimeter – along with probably the best point guard in the world – is kind of unfair. Augustus has a gorgeous jump shot and is happy to go by you if you overplay it; Moore is just as good a shooter with even more range, and her ability to finish at the rim under pressure is outstanding. It’s a joy to watch, unless you’re supporting the other team.
DeLisha Milton-Jones took a few too many jump shots in this game – she’s not that great a shooter, and the Lynx were happy to watch her toss them up. Pondexter also forced a couple in the latter stages, while Minnesota’s defense increasingly collapsed on Charles whenever she got near the ball inside. The Liberty kept it close, but Whalen and Moore made big shots down the stretch, and the Lynx made enough free throws to close the game out. Chicago against Minnesota on ESPN on Monday will be a battle of unbeatens.
Key Players: Moore and Augustus again, obviously, although Whalen did a nice job of attacking Cruz when she could, and some of the offense they run through Janel McCarville in the high post is beautiful. A late layup for Moore took her over the 30-point barrier, making her the first player in WNBA history to score 30+ in four straight games.
New York actually looked pretty good, and were relatively impressive even in defeat (probably more so than in their opening-night win in Connecticut). Charles looked like the beast we grew to know and love in her first few years in Connecticut, rather than the half-interested player floating through games we saw last year. The pedestrian power forward combination of Milton-Jones and Pierson is a little concerning, and there’s not much coming off the bench, but there’s something to work with here.
Notes of Interest: Reeve sent in lots of subs over the course of this game, trying to keep them rolling to keep everyone fresh in the middle of their stretch of three games in four days. The clash of heads also forced Moore and Augustus into some extra bench time that might not have been planned. Dantas was the only one who ended up playing a particularly heavy amount of minutes, so hopefully they’ll be in decent shape for Monday.
Atlanta Dream 73 @ Chicago Sky 87
Lineups: With Chicago already short a couple of stars, this matchup unfortunately lost one more when Angel McCoughtry was rules out with a ‘rhomboid strain’ (they’re a couple of muscles in the back of your shoulder). Former Sky player Swin Cash replaced her in their starting lineup, and Shoni Schimmel also stepped up from the bench, in place of Tiffany Hayes. Epiphanny Prince was back with the Sky after her absence for personal reasons, but having only taken her physical on Friday she was in street clothes on the bench. They went with the same group as in their previous games.
Story of the Game: The first half was a tight affair. Chicago started better, with Cash clearly looking to shoot whenever she had the chance against her old team – and not hitting many. Sancho Lyttle picked up two early fouls, sending her to the bench, and then her third moments after returning. As a result she played less than six minutes in the first half, which didn’t make things any easier for Atlanta. But they got some decent minutes from Amanda Thompson in her first appearance of the season off the bench, Erika de Souza had a little joy in the paint, and they hung around.
Elena Delle Donne was once again the primary weapon for the Sky, doing damage both with her varied offensive arsenal and her ability to draw fouls and resulting free throw opportunities. But the sequences that decided the game in the second half were about the benches more than anything else. Atlanta spent too long with Schimmel as their only starter on the floor, and with the likes of Thompson, Matee Ajavon, Aneika Henry and either Hayes or Inga Orekhova joining her their offense dried up. Meanwhile, Courtney Clements and Allie Quigley were knocking down open jumpers for the Sky and helping them pull away in the third quarter.
The perimeter barrage continued for Chicago in the fourth, led by Quigley. She’s always been a decent option as a scoring punch off the bench, as long as that’s her role – you just don’t want her as your point guard. Delle Donne hadn’t really been needed in the Sky’s push, but she stepped up later in the fourth to help hold the lead and close the game out.
Key Players: Delle Donne, obviously, dominating the scoring column for the Sky once again, but she received solid support. Quigley was the most noticeable, but Markeisha Gatling used her bulk well inside, and Clements was more productive than Swin Cash – the player she was traded for a few weeks ago. As a team, the movement is better from Chicago this year, as is the use of screens and re-screening to bend defenses and break players open. There’s just less standing around and watching than we’ve suffered through in previous years. Some of that is simply because Sylvia Fowles isn’t there as a focus of their offense at the moment, but they need to keep this up even when Prince and Fowles return.
By contrast, occasionally it becomes apparent that Atlanta are working with a new head coach. When they can’t push in transition for quick offense, or nothing presents itself off an initial pick-and-roll at the top of the offense, they’re not always sure where to go next. Obviously, the loss of McCoughtry for this game made issues like that far more significant.
Hayes, Schimmel and de Souza were the Dream’s only significant scorers. Most of her work was done in the fourth quarter when the game was just about finished, but hopefully that gets Hayes going for the season. She may well be better served as a bench-injection rather than a starting off-guard. Schimmel scored well and had a high assist total again, but she definitely still has some things to work on. Her defense is deplorable, being left way behind on picks, or just getting lost entirely. She’s also going to lead the league in turnovers if she gets enough minutes, due to carelessness and trying impossible passes. She’s an exciting, electric talent, but there’s still a lot of room to develop.
The French playoffs definitely end today, with the final game taking place as I type. So Celine Dumerc is almost free of her European commitments and should be in Atlanta soon. Apparently she stated on French television that she’ll be in the US on June 1st, which is only a week away.
Nneka Ogwumike is expected to be back in uniform for the Los Angeles Sparks for today’s game against San Antonio, after recovering from her lower back problem.
San Antonio @ Los Angeles, 3.30pm ET
Indiana @ Atlanta, 6pm ET
I agree with New York letting their bench develop. Because everybody need to step from the frontcourt to the backcourt.